Handler Hope Foundation’s creation was motivated by the medical journey of Lauren Handler. Lauren’s struggle with cancer and her fight and determination to overcome it has been inspiring. We use that inspiration to support other cancer patients, their support networks, and their caregivers. Through thoughtful donation, sponsorship, advocacy, and building a body of knowledge, Handler Hope Foundation helps others fight as ferociously as they can too.
Lauren’s cancer journey
In early March of 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the world, Lauren and her family traveled to South Carolina to visit her parents. They extended their stay for weeks trying to wait out what they hoped would be a brief closure. Keeping busy by reading, playing board games, and exercising, Lauren restarted her yoga routine. During one of her sessions, she felt a pain in her left arm pit. Chalking it up to a pulled muscle, she ignored the pain hoping it would go away. After making it back to New York in late April and the pain persisting Lauren took advantage of work being limited by going to the doctor hoping they could resolve her issue. After a flurry of different doctor visits, Lauren was diagnosed with HER2-positive estrogen negative breast cancer on May 15th of 2020.
The next several months were exhaustive with doctor visits, treatments (chemo, radiation, and immunotherapy), surgeries, and physical therapies resulting in a cancer free notice from her medical team. During these months, Lauren’s physical limits were tested. She chose the strategy of fasting for her chemo treatments. Limiting her calories to no more than 350 for the time period of forty-eight hours before and twelve hours after infusions.
She believes this strategy is what allowed her to rebound so quickly from treatments and continue her Peloton routine in between. The less talked about toll on cancer patients is the mental one. The abundance of unfiltered information on the internet without having the specifics about the patient’s actual pathology can be dangerous. Combine this with social media groups self-describing as “support networks” yet only seem to host those with the worst of prognoses creates an emotional purgatory. The fear of recurrence is continuous.
Before and after her cancer free designation Lauren continually asked for brain scans just to be sure. Her doctors assured her that given her response to treatments a brain scan was not warranted and there was no need to expose her to the radiation of imaging scans.
On Nov 1st, 2021 Lauren received her Covid 19 booster shot. The following day she began to have a headache. Her headache continued for weeks. Lauren’s primary care physician assumed it was a side effect of the booster but prescribed a brain MRI due to Lauren’s history of breast cancer. The earliest MRI appointment was over a week away but the pain was too strong and persistent. On Nov 21st Lauren finally visited the emergency room. Little did she know this is the last time she would be home until Feb 2nd.
There was a mass in her brain which required two surgeries from two different angles in an attempt to remove it. After both of the resection surgeries it was discovered that cancer cells were now also in the cranial spinal fluid (leptomeningeal carcinomatosis). Her radiation therapy strategy changed from targeting the tumor to treating the whole brain.
After three additional surgeries to relieve pressure in the brain and treat an infection, which left her without a section of her skull, Lauren was finally released to Home Care to continue her treatments. Due to the surgeries, or pressure, or cancer, or all of the above Lauren lost most of the ability to move the left side of her body. She needed intensive physical and occupational therapy to resume her life.
The transition to Home Care was tough. No matter who came to the home they gave Lauren’s family a different explanation of what care she would receive. They were never prepared or had looked at Lauren’s case prior to arriving. Their services were too infrequent to provide the care Lauren needed. On top of all the Home Care issues Lauren’s condition was declining again.
After yet another brain scan, which had become weekly at the hospital, the doctors discovered new swelling on Lauren’s brain.
Due to the radiation treatment the wounds from her craniotomies would not seal. Lauren would require intensive muscle and skin grafts to repair her wounds to prevent cranial spinal fluid from leaking out. On Feb 25th 2022 Lauren was rushed back to the hospital for these surgeries which wound up taking almost 30 hours.
Lauren’s condition continued to decline from this point. It took weeks and was declining from more than just the surgeries. The infection was persistent this whole time. The pressure on her brain and damage to her central system was still in question. But the most significant factor was, the cancer was back. On May 2nd 2022 imaging showed cancer throughout her brain. There was no reasonable or humane path forward to continue treating Lauren.
We are heartbroken by the death of our foundation’s inspiration, Lauren Handler who passed away on Thursday, May 19 2022 at the age of 38. It would be wrong to say that Lauren lost her battle with cancer because she never stopped fighting. No matter how sick she was, she was always fiercely determined. When anyone else would have broken, Lauren stayed strong. Through her, we know what resilience and perseverance truly look like. There are no words that can properly express how tragic and unfair this is. Such a bright, beautiful woman should not have been taken from this world at such a young age. We will continue our mission in her memory to help others fight as ferociously as she did.
Lauren at work
Lauren has spent her entire professional life dedicated to bringing joy and fun to children, creating an avenue for kids to reach their full potential. She created platforms for girls and boys to build confidence, display their passions, and most importantly have fun.
She established her first business, The Party Palace at the age of eighteen years old. The Party Palace was a creation straight out of Lauren’s imagination. Built on the grounds of a former preschool which included playgrounds, an event space, and a pool, the Party Palace was the perfect venue for birthday parties. Lauren made sure every child had the time of their life on their birthday.
After the Party Palace, Lauren acquired East Coast USA Pageant and began her position as the National Director. This is where she really honed her passion for bringing joy and confidence to kids of all ages.
Providing a platform for them to showcase their talents and perform in front of others. Many of Lauren’s pageant participants went on to work with various talent agencies and have flourishing careers in performing.
One of the pillars of East Coast USA Pageant is to always provide the participants with an “experience.” From limo trips across NYC to insane parties with robots and Disney princesses, East Coast USA always delivers.
Lauren at play
Lauren loved to travel. She has visited twenty of the US states and the following countries: China, Aruba, St. Martin, and Greece. While many of these trips left fingerprints on Lauren’s heart one place owns her heart like no other – New Orleans is Lauren’s home away from home. She has visited the Big Easy more times than anywhere else with hopes of owning a pied-à-terre there one day. The music, liveliness, food, raucousness of NOLA filled her with joy.
Lauren in the community
When Lauren takes up a cause she believes in, her passion and drive are matched by no other. Fighting Ferociously comes from this. When she sees someone is being treated unfairly or unjustly, she pulls out all of the stops. She became very involved within her school district and even filed to run for the school board but needed to withdraw when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She is co-President of the East Northport Middle School PTA and representative on the Safety Committee. She loves Northport Village and regularly contributes to the local Patch board.